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The WBUR Read-In: On love

WBUR arts and culture fellow Lauren Williams recommends three books to read about all kinds of love. (Courtesy the publishers)
WBUR arts and culture fellow Lauren Williams recommends three books to read about all kinds of love. (Courtesy the publishers)

Pride as we know it today, a joyful month-long celebration, had a radical beginning. It started with a police raid. Same-sex marriage was decades away, bars were forbidden from serving drinks to gay people and cops arrested those who wore more than three pieces of clothing that didn’t match their perceived gender. Police often raided bars in search of people breaking these rules, which led to the Stonewall Riots. The riots began in Greenwich Village on a summer night in June 1969, after patrons at the Stonewall Inn defended themselves against the police. It carried on for days, marking a turning point in the movement for gay liberation. The following year, organizers arranged the first Pride march, which soon spread to other cities, birthing the movement of love now celebrated worldwide.

This year, Pride feels ever meaningful. The Human Rights Campaign named 2021 as the worst year for anti-LGBTQ legislation in the United States in recent history, with religious refusal bills, anti-LGBTQ education decrees and anti-trans sports bans being enacted across the country. It can feel regressive, dark even, but there is joy too. There’s beauty in the richness of history in LGBTQ+ resistance and the willingness to live authentically, even against dire consequences. That concept makes me think of something James Baldwin said to Maya Angelou. In response to a question about living in America as a gay man, he explains, “All I know about human life is that if I love you, I love you. And if I love you and duck it, I die.” There’s a lesson to be learned in the story of Pride about fighting oppression with radical love. To celebrate this month, I’ve got recommendations for books from Lou Sullivan, Jeanette Winterson, and Chinelo Okparanta.

'We Both Laughed in Pleasure: The Selected Diaries of Lou Sullivan'

Edited by Ellis Martin and Zach Ozma

Written over a span of three decades, Lou Sullivan lets readers into the depths of his life through a series of intimate diary entries. Starting in 1961, at only ten years old, Sullivan wrestled with gender identity and the tension between who he was inside and his lived reality as a Catholic schoolgirl. Sullivan would go on to become one of the most visible gay trans men of the Gay Liberation Movement, and this book is a declaration of that journey from start to finish. Sometime between 1976 and 1977, he wrote, “I don’t think this surgery would make me a better man or woman, but I know it would make me a better person. I don’t believe I can live successfully live as a man or a woman. But I have to do all I can to live comfortably…” The selected journal entries are an intoxicating mix of humor, sincerity, and, most importantly, the imagination of a world in which Sullivan could create happiness for himself — or at least one in which he could be comfortable. Despite Sullivan’s struggle with identity, his joy is at the center of this read.


'Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit'

By Jeanette Winterson

In “Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit,” Winterson tells a coming-of-age story about a young girl in a Pentecostal community as she begins to question her sexuality. The book begins with the rigidity of her home life. When describing her mother's particularities, she explains:

“Enemies were:
The Devil (in his many forms)
Next Door
Sex (in its many forms)
Slugs

Friends were:
God
Our Dog
Auntie Madge
The Novels of Charlotte Brontë
Slug pellets”

When Jeanette, the protagonist of the story, meets her first love interest in church, who happens to be a girl, the foundation on which she’s been raised begins to shake. Heartfelt and sensitive, this story tackles all kinds of love—romantic, familial, godly—and the tension between them.


'Under the Udala Trees'

By Chinelo Okparanta

Okparanta’s debut novel follows a girl named Ijeoma as she grows up in a war-torn 1960s Nigeria. In it, Ijeoma recalls her childhood as an adult, telling the story of an early forbidden love with another girl. It’s heartbreaking and lush, with descriptions that pull you into the two lovers’ worlds. The novel is complex, weaving together national histories with the interpersonal, but it's not overbearing. “Under the Udala Trees” also serves as a chilling reminder for readers as same-sex relationships and the support of them remain criminalized in Nigeria. In an author’s note, Okparanta explains that she hopes her novel can help give Nigeria’s LGBTQ community a more powerful voice and a place in the nation’s history.


Additional Reading:

Related:

Lauren Williams Arts Reporting Fellow
Lauren Williams is the arts reporting fellow at WBUR.

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